School buses, ambulances, taxis, travel coaches, transport trucks…if it has four wheels there’s a good chance the Hammond family has driven it at one point or another.
Since Orvil Hammond dropped out of Bracebridge High School in 1944 to start what would become Hammond Taxi, the family’s fleet and reputation have continued to grow at a steady incline.
Today the family operates dozens of school buses and coaches as HammondBus and Hammond Tours & Travel out of their headquarters in Bracebridge and a second office in Parry Sound. They also run a bus office in Oro Medonte along with a small storage facility called Reliable Self Storage with roughly 85 outdoor units.
It’s a far cry from the day when a 14-year Orvil got behind the wheel of a taxi with the ambitious goal of starting his own business. During war years, drivers could get a license as young as 14, as long as they had a company to vouch for them. He partnered with co-founder George Parlett and Park Taxi was born – later to become Hammond Taxi.
The Hammond family’s roots run back several generations deeper than Orvil, whose grandfather Alfred Hammond, was a British Home Child sent to Muskoka in 1880 at the age of six.
Alfred’s son Harold would eventually join his son Orvil in the taxi business. Orvil would go on to meet the love of his life Fran when he picked her up as the new teacher in town looking for a reliable cab.
As Hammond’s Taxi grew, first adding a panel van equipped with side seats to transport students to and from school, followed by trucks and ambulances, it became clear that a new, more encompassing name would be needed to reflect changing business: thus Hammond Transportation Ltd. was born. By the mid-1970s, Hammond Transportation Ltd. had sold off the taxi, ambulance and trucking divisions in order to better focus on bussing and travel.
At the end of that decade a new wing of the company, Muskoka Travel Service, was created in order to complement Hammond Transportation Ltd.’s growing charter operations. At the same time, Orvil’s three sons, Jim, Brad and Greg, were becoming more active in the company.
Orvil, Brad and Jim would eventually retire and Greg would assume leadership of the company. Joining Greg in the last decade were his cousins Derek Hammond, who manages the shops and fleet and Scott Hammond, who is the Operations Manager. In 2015, Kent Hammond rejoined the company in a management position, taking care of Muskoka Travel Service and in an operational capacity for Hammond Transportation as well as overseeing the small storage business. Also, Scott’s sons Nathaniel and Jake have also been driving the bus and another cousin, Dane Hammond has just come on board in the dispatch department this year.
Although Orvil passed away in 2017 and Fran passed away earlier in November, the Hammond connection to the business remains just as strong today as it has for the past 79 years.
“For all the other Hammond family members who work for us and have worked for us in the past, I think they work here for the same reason a lot of our employees work here,” says Kent, who is also Jim’s son. “We have a family atmosphere, and we care about each other.”
Kent says he’s been a part of the family business for virtually his entire life, on and off.
“My dad managed the fleet and the mechanics, and he worked extremely hard when I was growing up and consequently, I spent a lot of time at the shop. I think I was around 12 when I started working and that included a lot of sweeping, emptying garbage cans and cleaning buses,” says Kent. “After college I moved to Toronto for a few years, but after I met my wife, we decided to move back to Bracebridge. It’s not easy being part of a family business. Greg and I have a great relationship, and I think that was a huge motivator for me to get back into the fold after we moved home.”
During the Pandemic, the company decided to rebrand of the companies with a focus on the family name.
Hammond Transportation was often confused with trucking companies, even though they had been out of the trucking business since the 70’s, says Kent. Muskoka Travel Service was also often confused with a Travel Agency, when the business strictly revolved around group travel mainly focused on luxury motor coach tours. As such they rebranded from Hammond Transportation Ltd. to HammondBus and from Muskoka Travel Service to Hammond Tours & Travel.
Over the years the family business aspect of the company has grown to incorporate several families in Muskoka, some of whom have been with the company for decades.
“Our former shop manager Paul Ehrat stopped to chat with me. He retired a few years ago but he worked for us for 40 years,” says Kent. “Bob Taylor, who works in our safety department, is coming up on 50 years working here. My first bus driver was Robyn Syvret, who still drives the bus for us today. Her mother Lois Forth drove for us for over 30 years and her daughter Dawn has driven off and on for us for many years. Debbie Drake in our dispatch department has also worked here for close to 30 years. I have grown up with these people and we have all been through a lot together. You realize as we come into our 79th year in business that my whole life is actually only a fraction of this company’s history. It’s special.”